By Yun Suh-young
A group of scientists at the Korea National Institute of Health (KNIH) have found a protein that contributes to the cause of Alzheimer’s disease, a discovery which will accelerate development of a medicine to prevent the disease.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare said Monday that a team led by Deputy Scientific Director Koh Young-ho of the KNIH discovered that a protein called SUMO 1 (small ubiquitin-related modifier 1) induced the creation of beta-amyloid peptide, a toxic substance, which causes Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
“The research will be a clue to controlling the process of amyloid creation in the brain. There is no effective medicine to treat Alzheimer’s disease at the moment and the cause of it had not been found until now,” the health ministry said through a press release. “This research will act as the basis for developing a medicine for Alzheimer’s disease.”
According to statistics from the health ministry, there were 399,000 Alzheimer’s patients over the age of 65 in 2007 out of 4.8 million people over 65 years of age. The number, however, is expected to double by 2020. The statistics show by 2020, there will be 693,000 patients out of 7.7 million people over 65.
Alzheimer’s is a disease resulting in dementia. Dementia usually refers to cognitive changes with advanced age and there are many causes of this symptom with Alzheimer’s accounting for 70 percent of the cases. Although it is acquired more commonly with age, it is not part of normal aging.
The KNIH team found in this research that SUMO 1 increased in the brain tissue of a laboratory mouse with Alzheimer’s and combined with beta-secretase (BACE) which causes beta-amyloid to increase the amount of the toxic amyloid. It also found that the creation of the beta-amyloid could be restrained through restraining the gene expression of SUMO 1.
“Until now SUMO 1 was known as a protein that combined with the target protein to control its functions but through this research, a new function (inducing the creation of toxic amyloid) has been found,” said Koh.
The article on the discovery was published in the online version of Neurobiology of Aging, a renowned international academic journal on Sept. 13. The research is part of the Disease Control Research Project funded by the KNIH.